A huge number of employees are working remotely these days. As per the Global Workplace Analytics report, right now over 4.3 million employees are working from home at least half the time.
Working from home, no matter how tempting it sounds due to the flexibility this setup has to offer, is a challenging routine to get into for the employees. A lot has changed significantly for companies and managers as well in terms of handling the employees.
Managing teams, that too remotely, to make sure they work together seamlessly adds another layer of challenge especially when there is no formal provision for it in the companies.
If you are a part of an organization that is considering switching to remote working, we have compiled a comprehensive remote work guide for you.
Since the culture of remote work is here to stay for the foreseeable future, it is the right time to embrace it and introduce certain practices and protocols to make your team communication and collaboration stronger. There are a few challenges as well that should be addressed.
Common Challenges in Managing a Remote Team
Measuring team productivity
During pre-COVID era, the biggest challenge of remote work was the disconnection felt by the employees from the companies they work for. But right now, the biggest challenge seems to be measuring an individual’s or a team’s productivity.
It is easy to gauge an individual’s keenness and involvement in a team task in a physical setup. There are processes built specifically for it and a capable manager can understand a lot of stuff just by an employee’s body language.
But during work from home, you need to have specific deliverables to determine an individual’s productivity. You can use applications and tools to even measure an employee’s productive time . Desktime is one such software.
Seamless communication is important for any organization. In remote working, all the communication happens over virtual meetings or video conferencing or channels such as slack.
Even with these tools the communication does not feel complete and lacks experience as we are used to having in-person communication inside offices.
Another important aspect is having mindful conversations. People have an inherent habit of assigning tones to text messages. It is imperative that the employees are made aware of this and take official conversations strictly as professional communications.
Unifying Company Culture
Company culture holds everyone together. It lays down a code of conduct the employees work by.
Keeping that culture uniform and homogenous across office employees and remote employees is a challenging task for every company. This challenge can be overcome by leveraging technology and teaching the individuals to take ownership.
In a remote work culture, you do not see how the other person is conducting themselves. This creates a gap which can only be filled by taking due ownership.
Hiring and Training New Employees
Hiring people after meeting and interviewing them in person is usually how it happens. After hiring, making sure they fit right in within their teams is a crucial part of onboarding.
But with remote work culture, both hiring and onboarding need to be done virtually and without meeting the fresh recruit in person. It raises a new challenge as the onboarding process is the first time the new employees have an interaction with their work, the processes, and colleagues.
Lack of Visible Trust and Appreciation
When someone does a great job, they are duly appreciated and even rewarded. This helps in building trust, appreciation, and a healthy competitive culture between teams.
But in a remote environment, everyone is working on their assigned tasks without physically seeing each other. Now all the appreciation happens over text messages and emojis which lacks the emotion that someone can feel and cherish.
The Benefits of Remote Work
Like we all know, everything comes with its own set of challenges and benefits. It is the same for remote work as well.
Benefits of remote work include more flexible hours for employees as they don’t need to commute, higher productivity due to fewer distractions, chances of getting marked late or absent are reduced, hiring teams based in different time zones which means operations can be run round the clock and more talented people can be hired without making them travel across the world.
This also opens more opportunities for everyone to work in any company while staying in their native country.
How to Effectively Manage Remote Employees?
Either you have already hired your first remote employee or you are planning to hire one soon, these tips will help you overcome challenges of managing remote employees and establish better remote working processes.
If you are an employee who is going to work remotely then we highly recommend you know more about working from home productively and if you are going to manage remote employees then keep reading for tips to manage remote employees effectively.
1. Engage With The Team Regularly
To make sure the team is well connected and in sync, having a biweekly standup meeting where the whole team can come together over video or voice conferencing can make a huge impact on the team's productivity and mood. It could be as simple as everyone sharing what they did the whole day at work.
Employees can talk to each other about work at any time but assigning a time slot when everyone can come together to specifically discuss their daily tasks will go a long way in making sure the team is strongly connected.
2. Choose the Right Communication Tools
Setup an appropriate communication channel that suits all. These days, most of the companies use tools like zoom, slack, notion, Trello, etc. Sometimes it can get messy for employees to get confused about which tool to use and for what purpose. Set the right communication strategy for the different types of tasks and the level of urgency.
Some teams might have members that are introverted or prefer to work offline on their own. You may not hear from them for a couple of days. These team members should be encouraged to share updates of their projects without asking for them. Proactive communication is extremely important, so choosing an app or tool that facilitates that is highly recommended.
3. Set Clear Boundaries & Expectations
Remote work can become easy if everyone in the team has clear expectations regarding the kind of work and goals from their managers. This way the employees can work with more freedom and clarity towards their respective goals and expectations. They will also feel more confident about their work.
It is important to set fixed working hours, assigning deadlines to tasks and making sure that they are adhered to. Setting boundaries is extremely important as some people might overwork themselves and prematurely burn themselves out.
4. Create An Effective Communication Strategy
After choosing the right communication tools it is the time to set up a communication strategy that is effective for your business. Keeping everyone’s work in sync with them being spread across the globe is going to very much depend on how efficiently the teams can communicate with each other.
The team members should know which person can be connected without any notice and which employee can be connected over emails only. Not all resources in a company have the liberty and free time to jump on a call at a moment’s notice.This should be made aware to everyone as it clears out the confusion.
Employees should be encouraged to use official communication tools instead of just texting and calling each other to get the work done on priority.
5. Trust Your Team
It is simple, avoid using spying software on employees’ systems. There are a lot of companies that go to the extreme extent of tracking their employees via webcam to check if they are working or not, even logging their entire screen for monitoring. This should not be practiced. Trust your team with tasks and they will deliver the tasks as expected.
Do not follow the ‘Big Brother’ culture. If you are tracking your remote employee’s every move they are bound to feel the lack of trust and thus, feel hurt. As a company or a leader, you need to know that the work is being done. You can achieve so by time tracking, status task reporting using different software.
6. Focus On Goals Not Activity
As a manager or company there should be certain goals for your teams to work on. You should make sure you know if the team is working towards the goals or not.
Don’t micromanage to the level where an employee simply loses his ability to make decisions and grow in the company. Guide them if something is required but make sure they are not judged on each little activity.
7. Allow Flexibility In Work
As the personal and professional lives usually get merged during remote work, allow a little flexibility so people can get used to working from the comfort of their home. Make sure to implement proper systems that improve the productivity of each team member.
Instead of counting hours, track, whether the tasks assigned, are completed within the deadline decided or not. Also, always remember that the employees are not available at your disposal through the entirety of the day. Assign them the tasks within the working hours and expect the completion within working hours only.
8. Create a Standard Onboarding Process
If your company is planning to embrace the remote culture, for the time being, it is better to adapt the virtual onboarding process as well. This could be a new experience for most SME businesses so setting up a standard process is the way to go.
Use tools like Notion to create a well-organized process over weeks to train employees and get them started remotely.
It is important to realise that virtual onboarding takes time. The remote employees need some time to get used to the virtual barriers and understand the company protocols. Be patient with employees who have recently joined you and do not judge their abilities right after a few days into the employment.
9. Incorporate Video Conferencing
In remote work culture, human touch goes missing, and understanding each other in case someone is facing any issue becomes quite difficult. A video call should be set up once a week within the team and once a month within the entire organization to have a session where employees can touch bases and or even hangout. This will help people feel more connected and rejuvenated.
Also, there should be an open calendar system where employees can set up one-on-one meetings to discuss issues or feel connected. It promotes more openness and approachability with middle and top management.
10. Use the Right Collaborative Tools
For each organization depending upon the type of work, type of collaboration will differ but it is extremely crucial to select the right tools for the teams and employees so they can effortlessly and seamlessly collaborate on projects to get the work done without too much friction in adjusting to the new tools.
The benefit of choosing the right collaborative tool for the organization is that it becomes easier for the entire company to come together any time at a moment’s notice to solve any issue which could otherwise become a challenge if every team starts using different tools.
11. Place Open Feedback Systems
With the virtual setup, certain challenges are also bound to arise. It is advised to have an open feedback system (with options of being anonymous) to encourage the employees to come forward and speak openly about their professional discomforts or barriers.
Also, holding a monthly or quarterly open town hall for an organization where everyone can get together and ask questions openly and top management can explain the most common issues which are being faced in different teams.
12. Systems to Identify and Provide Recognition
Recognizing employees’ efforts and rewarding them appropriately helps keep them motivated. Not all companies do it right.
In remote work culture, it is easier and quite common to have your work go unappreciated. Build systems around tracking the output of employees to make sure those employees get recognized on the organization level and not just between their team members.
You can award the team members with gifts such as shopping vouchers, earphones etc. to make their work life easier or just simply to make them feel appreciated. Such small gestures go a long way.
13. Give your employees a break
The biggest employee oriented risk of remote work culture is them overworking themselves. It is true that remote work causes less absenteeism but it should be made sure the employees do take leaves once in a while. Taking a few days off from remote work is also necessary as it lets you get out of the work zone and causes a much needed detox.
An overworked employee is the biggest threat of productivity. To ensure this does not happen, encourage your team members to take leave if and when required.
Working from home does not mean you have to work through your ailments as well. Ask your employees to take mandatory leaves which they can avail whenever they want after consulting with the managers. This way the entire department doesn't take the leave at the same time while getting the much needed break.
Start Managing Your Remote Employees More Effectively
With the increasing number of remote employees, more challenges are going to evolve but the benefits will always remain there. So as a growing company you should embrace the change and take advantage of hiring talent from across the globe.
If done right and by utilizing the strategies that can effectively help managers take care of their remote employees, you might be able to successfully transition to a fully remote working culture. This way your business can save more costs and you can even provide benefits to the employees.